On my last blog, we covered how plastic began, but when did people start to realise that plastic wasn't as amazing as they first thought? When did they first start seeing plastic as a problem?
Plastic was first seen in our oceans in the 1960’s and the first concern about pollution was in 1969, after an oil spill polluted a river in Ohio, California and caught fire. As people became aware of environmental issues, the growing volume of plastic waste began to worry people.
The concern grew over the 70’s and 80’s as it was becoming obvious that plastic really does last forever. It was the plastics industry that introduced a recycling scheme, but this is still less than perfect and most still ends up in landfill or our seas.
Chemicals in plastic concerns
The growing concern about plastic wasn’t just about the waste, it was the concern about the chemicals that are used to make the plastic flimsy and mouldable. The bisphenol (BPA) and phthalates can leach out of containers and into our food, disrupting our endocrine (hormonal) system and researchers now worry about the effects on children especially.
Fossil fuels and plastic
It isn't just the amount in landfill, the chemicals leaking out into food and the environment, its also the whole process of making the plastic from the very beginning that's the problem. Plastic is made from the burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that trap heat in the Earth and extracting the fossil fuels effects air and water pollution.
What are fossil fuels?
Fossil fuels are natural resources of organic matter that has formed and fossilized over many years, these present in petroleum, coal and tar. Because of the time it takes to form them, they are considered non-renewable and when they run out, we are unable to make more.
Coal is extracted via mining whilst oil and gases are extracted using drilling. These processes effect the land and the workers health. Mining destroys the land that is mined, and can lead to erosion, explosions and pollute the nearby water with harmful substances. Drilling for oil risks oil spills and explosions, as does the pipes that transport them across large areas, these have been known to erupt and spill, damaging land, wildlife and humans. We really need to completely phase out fossil fuels and switch our economy to renewable energy.
So what's the solution?
Plastic obviously has its uses, it revolutionised the medical field and scientists are working to create more sustainable types, but how sustainable they will be we do not know, things aren’t always as good as they seem, as they history of plastic tells us.
What we really need is to stop buying single use plastic, it's only when demand lowers will changes happen. Alternatives aren't always cheaper, but if you can afford to buy better, more sustainable items, then you really should. Its consumer buying that will make changes to the plastic production.
One of the changes we need is in the recycling system. Unfortunately it's unlikely that plastic production is going to stop anytime soon, and the fact that only 9% of plastic ever made has been recycled, just isn’t good enough.
We’ll look into recycling on our next blog.